The Bible calls God “holy.” I used to think that “holy” meant that God is good and perfect in every way. But “Holy” is actually the designation for the distance of God, the hallowedness of God— “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
It is the designation for God’s awesome mysteriousness, God’s divine otherness. God is a peace beyond understanding, a love that can never be contained. As C.S. Lewis once said, God is a “dynamic pulsating activity, a drama, a life, a dance” that is larger than our mortal minds can comprehend.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the understanding that God is one but is experienced as Father, Son and Holy Spirit reveals just how awesome and mysterious our God is.
Three persons in one— Throughout the centuries, scholars have been trying to explain this complexity in simplistic language, but such explanations only scratch the surface of who God truly is.
You have probably heard that God is like a pie. You can cut a pie into three pieces, but it’s still one pie. Or God is like many of us. I’m a brother, a father, and a son, but I am still one person. Or God is like water, and water has many forms. Steam, ice, liquid, but it is still water.
However, no matter how simplistic we try to make it, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity will always underscore the complexity, the sheer largeness, the wonderful otherness, the richness, and the wonder of God.
My good friend and pastor, the late Warren Carr, used to be fond of saying he has never believed in Children’s Church or Children’s messages. He said the reason that churches have children’s church or children’s messages is because they want to make sure that the children understand something while they are at church. Carr used to say: “Maybe it is better that they don’t understand everything that is going on in church. Because when they come to church and don’t understand, they learn something very valuable about the sheer mystery of God.”
Carr understood that a great hindrance to the church has always been people who think they have it all figured out. For them, God is not a mystery. They understand God completely. There’s nothing complex and confusing or even Holy about the Trinity. When it comes to faith and theology, they know it all. They have all the answers. And, unfortunately they are usually the ones who are very quick to speak on the behalf of God
When Lori and I lost our first child late in the third trimester, these people came from everywhere to share their insight.
“Jarrett, God is just not ready for you to be a father.” “God has some reason for taking your baby.” “God doesn’t make mistakes.”
Although I remained quiet, I wanted to raise my voice and say back to them, “But God is ready for children born every day out of incestuous relationships, and God is ready for children to be born every day to abusive parents or parents strung out on cocaine or heroin!”
During that most difficult time in our life, people said some of the most hurtful things to us, and they said those things in the name of God—in the name of the God that they have all figured out.
The truth, is when it comes to God, with our human limitations, all of us are quite ignorant. The Apostle Paul was right when he said while we live on this earth, we will always see as through a glass dimly or darkly.
When it comes to theology, I have learned that one of the most intelligent things a person can say is: “I don’t know.” And when you are trying to comfort someone who is grieving any loss, oftentimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. A sincere hug or even a simple handshake, a holy kiss on the forehead will express the wonder of God’s presence and love better than any words.
However, and it’s a big however, although God is holy, complex and mysterious, although we are limited by our human finitude, the good news is that God is not entirely unknowable.
This mystery, this wonderful otherness, this wonder we call God constantly reaches in and out to us, and continually seeks to encounter us as the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
And here’s some irony. The same doctrine which reveals God’s mysterious distance is the same doctrine which reveals God’s intelligible nearness. The Holy Trinity is how we know the mysterious, distant, yet intelligible, intimate ways of God. The Holy Trinity teaches us how God moves and works, what God wants, and where God is moving and working in our world.
Listen carefully, because what I am about to say is all I believe we need to understand about the Trinity. Forget all about the three slices of pie. Forget all about me being a father, son and a brother, and forget all about ice, steam and liquid.
- God, the creator of all that is, the power behind our universe, gave God’s self, emptied God’s self, poured God’s self out and became flesh and dwelt among us through Jesus Christ.
- Jesus Christ, while he was on this earth, gave himself back to God by becoming obedient to God even to death, even death on the cross.
- Before he left us on this earth, he promised not to leave us orphaned, he promised to be with us always by giving himself back to us through the Holy Spirit.
Do you see the one characteristic of the Holy Trinity which stands out? God gave God’s self through the Son. The Son gave himself back to the Father. And God once more gives God’s self back through the Holy Spirit. This is what we can know about this mystery, this wonderful otherness that we call God. God is a self-giving God. God is a God who loves to give to others the very best that God has to offer, the gift of God’s self.
Even when we rejected and nailed God to a tree and crucified him between two criminals, God gave God’s self back to us in the resurrection of Jesus. There is nothing in heaven or on earth which prevents our God from giving all that God has to give, the greatest gift of all, the gift of God’s self.
God is a giver. That means that God is not a taker. For givers are never takers.
Isn’t interesting that people, many of them Christian, often characterize God as a taker? Do you remember the song, “O where, o where can my baby be? The Lord took her away from me.” How many funerals have we attended and heard the words, “God took her home; God was ready to take him.”
Our first child died, but I do not believe God took him. We have all lost loved ones to death. But the self-giving nature of the Trinity teaches us that God did not take them. For givers are not takers. A more accurate way of describing what happened to our loved ones when they breathed their last breath on this earth is that God fully, finally and eternally gave all of God’s self to them.
When we experience the heartache and heart break of this fallen and broken world, there is one thing of which we can be certain, God is here with us, not taking, but giving us all that God has to give, the best gift of all, the gift of God’s self. If we don’t know anything else about the complexity and mystery of God, we can know this. God is a giver. For it is God’s very nature.
This is a very important concept for us to grasp as Christians because God has mysteriously called us share this self-giving love with all people. Like the dynamic activity of the Holy Trinity, God calls us to give ourselves back to God, die to self. And then ask God to give God’s self to us, come into our hearts, fill us with God’s love, so we can share it with others.
When people face a crisis, I have said that it is oftentimes better to be present and silent. Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. A hug and handshake will suffice. Giving the gift of yourself, as God gives God’s self, through a hug, a handshake, or a holy kiss is more than sufficient. However, there are many of us who just have an innate problem keeping our big mouths shut.
So, if you have to open your mouth, remember the Trinity. God is a giver, not a taker. Therefore, always focus on the self-giving God instead of on some false taking god. In ignorance, instead trying to explain why something bad has happened to someone, remind that person that God is there with them, not away from them. God is there for them, not against them. God doesn’t take. God gives. God is there giving all that God has to give, the gift of God’s self.
If you have open your mouth, you can never go wrong in pronouncing upon them the great Trinitarian benediction of the Apostle Paul—“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you.”
And you can promise them this. Mysteriously, yet certainly, that gift of God’s Holy Triune self will be all that they will ever need.